Physical violence and verbal aggression, denying or abrogating the rights of citizens or certain populations based on origin, external appearance, religion, or culture are unacceptable and endanger Israeli society. These actions deserve the strongest condemnation, denunciation, and punishment. But should these actions, in all cases, be classified as racism? And what are the consequences of the sweeping use of this term to describe other phenomena within Israeli society, such as ultra-nationalism?
Discussion of this question arises from the recent widespread use of the term “racism,” both in the Israeli media and public discourse, to describe a wide range of behaviors that result in discrimination. There is no disagreement over the need to deal with and eradicate these phenomena, but it must be understood that the reckless use of the term “racism” is liable to harm the State of Israel in two areas:
- Internationally – in regard to other countries, and in regard to Diaspora Jewry, making a sweeping charge of racism against Israel, and presenting many different incidents under the same umbrella, contributes to the de-legitimization of Israel, as well as the distancing of young liberal Jews who express abhorrence at some Israeli policies.
- Internally – the lack of distinction and caution trivialize a complex state of affairs and make it very hard to understand the problems that lie at the heart of different phenomena, and to formulate relevant policy. This harms the ability to put forward operative policy measures, and, in the long term, may lead to the spread of these phenomena rather than reducing them.